The SHANNON MUIR’S INFINITE HOUSE OF BOOKS weekly column is a place at Shannon Muir’s author website open to interviews and guest posts from other authors. One thing Shannon firmly believes in for readers not only to learn about new books available, but about those who craft the tales behind them. As its name implies, SHANNON MUIR’S INFINITE HOUSE OF BOOKS weekly column features writers from all genres of fiction who want their potential audience to get to know them, and their works, better – and occasionally may offer features from Shannon herself that support readers to discover words.
This week, find out more about the book SURVIVOR’S DAWN in an interview with its author.
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Author: Ashley Warren
Publisher: Chaparral Press LLC
Genre: Contemporary Fiction / Women’s Fiction / New Adult Fiction
first glance, Brooke Flanagan, Lauren Le, and Nikki
Towers have little in common:
a churchgoing virgin, a party girl, and a resident advisor. But they all
have their own dreams, dreams that can be shattered in a single night.
freshman Brooke Flanagan first arrives at the university, she’s
excited to escape her sheltered life in a Southern town. Lauren Le, a
scholarship student, likes to have a good time, but she never disappoints her
hardworking, single mom. Nikki Towers
always goes her own way. Confident, poised, and wealthy, Nikki’s biggest
problem is what to do with her future.
these girls’ lives walks Colin Jordan. Colin is the son of a private equity
titan, captain of his club basketball team, and a brilliant pre-law student. He
is also a sexual predator.
Dawn relates a journey of heroes: the strength, courage,
and determination of the victims as they fight to survive; the obstacles they
face in their pursuit of justice; and finally, with its conclusion, hope for a
future where students can pursue their dreams without fear of being attacked.
contemporary novel, Survivor’s Dawn wrestles with issues of
privilege, sexual assault, and the responsibility of academic institutions to
protect their students.
ORDER YOUR COPY:
eleven thirty Lauren Le stood with
her new friends at the Homestead, a
lively bar in the Triangle. Everyone talked at once, shouting to be heard above
the music. The Homestead had space
for a couple hundred people, with a large square bar in the middle, dozens of
stand-up tables, and two dance floors. The constant beat and the bass notes
coursed through Lauren’s veins.
took a slug of the vodka soda.
had taken her a month to get comfortable on campus. She had grown up in Irving,
Texas, outside of Dallas,
and had never traveled this far to the east before starting school here. Some
of her high school friends had gone to college, but none as far away as Lauren.
They fell short when it came to grades and test scores and ambition.
was the result of a short-lived and reckless affair between a Vietnamese
immigrant, Kim Le, who worked in a nail salon, and a tall Texan who lit out for
the oil rigs as soon as Kim missed her first period. Kim had never heard from
him again, and she seldom mentioned him to Lauren. As Lauren grew older she
became curious and would sometimes ask about her father.
was stupid,” Kim had said. “I tried for a big dream with a big white man. But
he was no good.”
Lauren pressed for more information, Kim would grow adamant.
forget about him. You need to study.”
Kim wasn’t working at the salon, a short distance from their apartment, she was
doing piecework for a local tailor. Kim never paid Lauren an allowance, but she
let her work a part-time job so long as she kept her grades near perfect.
a tired mother and an absent father, Lauren was forced to learn how to have a
good time on her own, and at that she had excelled. As a senior with a full
figure, a fun nature—her hobbies were cosplay, online gaming, and organizing
flash mobs—and a curious mind about partying and sex, Lauren had always
had drunk one cocktail at the Italian restaurant and started with a shot of
tequila at the Homestead. When they
had first arrived, the girls danced as a group for nearly an hour, not allowing
the dearth of boys to deter them from getting the party started.
took a break, her head buzzing slightly from the alcohol and the dancing. Cool
air from the duct above her whisked away the perspiration.
college is fun.
bar began to fill, and boys drifted by their group in ones and twos. A
sophomore from New Jersey bought
her another drink. He was her height, with red hair, and talked fast in a
northern accent. He was almost cute, except for a big pimple and his lack of
coordination. They tried dancing but couldn’t make it work. Afterward, he told
her his dream of becoming a veterinarian. Snore.
spied one of the resident advisors from Roxbury Hall, Nikki
Towers, watching her from the other
side of the bar. The girls had approached Nikki when they first entered the Homestead,
nervous because they had used fake IDs to get past the bouncer. They needn’t
have worried. Nikki’s nickname was Cool RA. She had a reputation for doing her
own thing in her own way and never traveling in a crowd. Cool RA had wished
them a good time but advised them not to get wasted. (“I’m your RA, not your
babysitter.”) Nevertheless, when Lauren caught Nikki’s eye, she could tell Cool
RA was not impressed with the New Jersey
he said, “do you want to come over to the frat house and listen to music? I’ve
got some killer weed.”
eyes were glazed and his shoulders swayed, like a five-year-old on a bicycle.
Lauren wasn’t a fan of just-met sex. If he had been gorgeous, like Liam
Hemsworth, then maybe. Wait, maybe? Not maybe. Definitely! But she would not
have sex with New Jersey, at
least not tonight. “You know, I’m gonna hang with my friends a while longer.
a problem. Catch you later.”
leaned toward her as if expecting something. She hesitated, unsure, and then
offered to shake hands. He only got about ten steps before he stopped to chat
up another girl.
did he want?” said Caitlyn, her roommate. Caitlyn’s face turned sour as
Lauren told her of the invite to smoke pot. “Eewww! That guy?”
laughed. Lauren was light as a feather. She could party all night.
two thirty in the morning an Uber
dropped Lauren outside Roxbury Hall. Lighting a cigarette, she gazed up at the
three-story brick building and remembered move-in day, how excited she’d been;
her mother and aunt and uncle had come to help. What had she wanted then? Freedom?
Relief from her mother’s watchful eyes? Yes, that was part of it, but she’d
hoped for a lot more.
had smoked pot with her latest score, a hipster from California,
and now her head felt heavy and thick. After the joint he had wanted to have
sex again. She had no urge for an encore but couldn’t think of a polite way to
turn him down. What did that make in total? Three? Four? Five counting the
blackout sex with Colin Jordan. Five boys (men?) in four weeks. What the hell?
So weird. The hookups were like gorging on pizza, but the gnawing emptiness
she’d felt after Colin hadn’t abated at all.
did she have on the calendar for the next day? A couple lectures: Psychology
and English Lit. She might make it to class, or she might not. They were easy
courses anyway. Crushing the butt beneath her heel, she tossed it in a trashcan
and walked through the door.
Lauren’s dorm room, Caitlyn sat at her desk reading a textbook with her earbuds
said Lauren. “What are you doing up so late?”
turned in her chair. “Studying for the psych test.” She sniffed the air.
Caitlyn never studied this late. Lauren walked to Caitlyn’s side and saw, sure
enough, that the fat psych book was open a third of the way through.
for? The test is next week.”
it’s next week.”
tomorrow. I texted you to study together, but you never answered. Where’ve you
ignored Caitlyn and walked to her desk to check her laptop. The test had
to be next week; she’d skipped a few classes and hadn’t read the book. “What?”
asked where you’ve been.”
Homestead. I went for a drink.”
Caitlyn was right. The test was that morning—less than seven hours away. Lauren
shook her head. The buzz from the pot had turned into a headache. How did she
mess this up? Caitlyn was saying something else.
smell like cigarettes and pot. Where did you smoke pot?”
stopped at this guy’s place to party.”
a Tuesday? Shit, Lauren. What the fuck?”
you’re not my mom. Chill the fuck out.”
a shower and some caffeine, Lauren reviewed her notes and opened the textbook.
Caitlyn had gone to sleep, and Lauren’s desk lamp made shadows on the floor.
The quiet of the room calmed her, and for the first twenty minutes she made
progress, covered the better part of a chapter, but then her eyelids grew
heavy, and the words blurred on the page. A short nap would clear her head and
allow her to absorb the material with her usual speed. She set a twenty-minute
timer on her phone, lay down, and closed her eyes. The psychology concepts
quickly drifted away.
sat in the classroom, breathing fast; her eyes flitted back and forth over the
questions. Half of the class had already finished and left. She flipped back
several pages. Damn. There had to be another question she could answer,
but she couldn’t find it, and after another minute the professor called time.
had woken at eight thirty to Caitlyn
roughly shaking her shoulder.
up! It’s time to go. I woke you twice already.”
no time to even brush her teeth, Lauren had pulled on boots and a clean top and
walked with Caitlyn to class. She had never felt so unprepared.
now she’d failed the test. Fucking flat-ass failed it.
in the bright sunlight, Caitlyn stopped to face her. Her eyes peered into
Lauren’s, her ever-present smile nowhere to be seen.
you do?” said Caitlyn.
I really fucked up.”
sorry. You know…I tried to text you.”
legs were numb. Adrenaline had fired her up during the exam, but now all the
energy had burned off.
headed off to another class, and Lauren trudged to the student union. She’d
spent the last of her cash on cigarettes. Once inside, she made it to the ATM
and took out ten dollars.
stared at the red and white logo on the touchscreen.
mother’s apartment was two blocks from a branch. Kim would deposit cash tips at
the drive-thru while Lauren sat in the passenger seat. Some days at the salon
were hard. The owner would berate the workers for not learning English. But the
drive-thru had always lifted Kim’s spirits. On the way out she’d pause to look
at the B of A sign and say the same thing every time: “Your future is in this
took two steps and her knees softened. She turned her back against the wall and
sank until her butt touched the floor.
her throat tightened and warm tears forced their way through closed eyelids.
She sat with elbows on knees, her hands over her face. Silent sobs shook her
shoulders. Students walked past in the hallway, busy, with classes to attend,
futures to build. Two girls giggled, happy, oblivious.
What was happening? She was freefalling into black air.
said something. A man’s running shoes appeared through spread fingers.
you all right?” he said.
pressed her palms against her eyes to rub away the tears. She wouldn’t compound
her failure by making people pity her, too. Pushing off the tiled floor she
stood, pulled her backpack over her shoulder, and faced him.
looked kind of sad,” he said.
was this guy? What was his game? Not bad looking, with strong shoulders and a
relaxed vibe, faded jeans and a simple black T-shirt.
you want to fuck me?” she said.
His mouth opened. “No!” He stepped back and thrust his hands in front as if to
ward her off. “What’s the matter with you?”
students stopped, sensing an incident of interest.
marched away from the onlookers. She ran upstairs to the second floor and
exited onto the grounds on top of the hill. She kept walking, past the
admissions building and the Old Chapel and onto Philosopher’s Row. She took one
of the paths into the side gardens and dropped on a bench.
rocked slowly, hugging her arms. God, how pathetic was that? What would she do
next? She wanted to skip class and walk to the Homestead
for an early afternoon cocktail.
if clinging to the edge of a dark abyss, Lauren tried to hold on, her stomach
roiling, her arms shaking. She had propositioned the boy, because she had wanted
to fuck him. She wanted to fuck a guy…any guy…every guy.
why? She’d never done that before. Never on the first night…that was her rule,
one she’d broken how many times now? Five.
grasped the edge of the stone bench, squeezing, ignoring the grating surface
against her fingers. A bird sang from a nearby tree. The bird flew from one
tree to the next, a flash of red, a cardinal. It settled for a few moments on
the branch of a maple tree, whose leaves had begun to turn, sang, and flew off.
cardinal reminded her of Todd, the gay guy she’d met three weeks earlier, with
his bright plumage and sweet song. What had Todd told her as they waited for
the Uber driver? Something about the dean of student affairs. Maybe she should
check it out.
What initially got you interested in writing?
I’ve always loved stories, listening to them, telling them, and reading them. In the second grade, my first poem was published in the school journal. It ran four lines and rhymed. I keep the journal in a box of old papers.
It seemed natural to want to write stories of my own, but it took years of effort and many failed drafts before I knew I could write a story worth reading.
How did you decide to make the move into being a published author?
Finishing the first draft of my first novel was a pivotal point in my journey. I remember typing The End and pushing my chair back to stare at the screen. Wow. I wrote a book. I didn’t know if it was any good (spoiler alert: it wasn’t), but I knew that it felt good and that I wanted to do it again.
I spent months polishing my gem, creating a second, third, and fourth draft. Finally, I shared it with a few close friends. Not being editors, they didn’t know how to give specific feedback, but they gave me encouragement. “This is good,” they said, “still rough in some places, but keep going.” That’s when I decided that one day I would become a published author.
What do you want readers to take away from reading your works?
As a writer, my first duty is to entertain my readers. They give me their time, so I try to pay them back by making them laugh and cry and smile. I try to engage them.
With Survivors’ Dawn, I wrote a story that will introduce you to a tough subject: sexual assault on college campuses. Brooke Flanagan, Lauren Le, and Nikki Towers are fictitious characters, but their stories are real. Victims face similar fates every day. And predators like Colin Jordan exist too. College students have been sexually assaulted for as long as colleges have existed.
As you read Survivors’ Dawn, you will walk with the survivors—you will experience fear, despair, anger, disgust, purpose, redemption, and finally, hope. You might even decide to get involved. A good start would be to take the It’s On Us pledge and make a donation.
What do you find most rewarding about writing?
Occasionally, I write a sentence that sounds perfect, as if the words have been waiting a long time to be put together in just that way. This rarely happens on the first try. I have to play around with the sentence, swap verbs, delete adjectives, or even start from scratch. But when I get it just right, I smile. On rare occasions, a reader will mention a passage they enjoyed that I thought was particularly good. That is reward enough for me.
What do you find most challenging about writing?
Finding the time. Life consumes time by requiring us to eat, sleep, make money, socialize with friends, pay bills, and attend to social media. Writing a good novel takes a lot of time.
Some writers earn enough to write full time, but I have yet to reach that point, and if I’m going to write a book a year, I need to budget twenty hours each week. That leaves little time for anything else, so I have become stingy with my time. I decline invitations. I let other things go. Activities that I used to enjoy don’t make the cut.
What advice would you give to people who want to enter the field?
Take this simple test. Lock yourself in a room and write for four hours without interruption. Don’t worry about the quality of the writing; it will likely be poor. The test is whether you enjoyed yourself. If the answer is yes, and you read enough and study enough and spend enough hours writing in that room, you will write a good book. If the answer is no, find a different way to spend your time.
What ways can readers connect with you?
I’d love to hear what you think of Survivors’ Dawn, so please do send me a note. You can get in touch using the contact information below.
write of the victim’s journey, to tell a story about the strength, courage, and
determination of survivors, to describe the difficulties they face in their
pursuit of justice, and finally, to offer hope for a future where students can
pursue their dreams without fear of being attacked.
how it feels to be assaulted, but we can try to empathize, and we can try to
help. Awareness is key to reducing the incidence of sexual assault on campus.
Please do your part by taking the It’s On Us pledge and contributing to
organizations that are fighting on the front lines.
is an incredible thing, so thank you also for telling your friends about Survivors’
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Kindle copy of SURVIVORS’ DREAM!
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giveaway ends midnight March 30.
- Winner will
be contacted via email on March 31.
- Winner has
48 hours to reply.